Tuesday, January 31, 2012

A Love Hate Friendship

For the longest time I loved you. And hated you. Actually, it was more of an envy. ‘Cause day in and day out boys liked me but wanted you. Week after week I was cute but you were hot. Back then I was pretty sure cute was a four letter word.
            Things were different today. In court. When you were trying to get permanent custody of your granddarlings. You wore a black suit with a pink top and you’d twisted your waist-length hair into a complicated figure eight. You peered at the judge over your Target reading glasses. Not a stitch of makeup on.
            That morning I’d slipped into my all-green Ann Taylor outfit hoping it would make my eyes seem aqua and communicate this-chick-has-her-act-together. I styled my hair Jennifer Aniston straight. Sprayed it with Aveda gloss drops and everything. I primed my lips then slicked them with stay-the-day lipgloss in L’il Red Corvette. Tucked the tube in my sparkly clutch for touchups. 'Cause you never know who's looking when.
            When you introduced me to your lawyer, I got the feeling he thought I was pretty. Maybe even hot. I saw him inspect my hands, probably checking for a wedding ring. Man, I tell you what. That guy sure knows how to jack his jaws. Don't know if he's always like that or if he was just trying to impress the judge. Or me.
            I giggled behind my hand every time the just-the-facts lady judge said, "Get to the point, counselor." 
            Even though I thought your attorney exceedingly long-winded, I liked it afterwards when he said my testimony on your behalf was like a verbal hug. That wasn't what I'd prayed for. It was better.
            The coolest thing was when Judge Just-the-Facts asked me how long I'd known you. I swept my shiny hair behind my shoulders and said, "Forty years, ma'am."
            I almost missed her awarding you physical and legal custody of your twin granddaughters. I was still focused on those forty years. And how some things change like hating you and some things stay the same like loving you.

Friday, January 27, 2012

The Bodacious Maturation of Wonder Riley--1

The best present Granny Cat Clark ever received was from me—Wonder Riley. I know this because she tells me practically every day. She covers my wild red rumpus hair with her big-as-man hands and exclaims.
            “Wonder, have I told you lately how incredibly special I find my throne?”
            I’d trash-picked the eight foot antique hall tree but I took care to never mention that fact to her. I had no desire to reduce it in her esteem. Even so, I suspect Granny Cat may have figured it out as I am not a young woman of great means.
            Most recently, I told her of an exciting and wonderful future event.
            “My beau’s creating a seat cushion for it, Granny Cat,” I said. “Then you’ll love it even more.”
            She p-shawed me. “Now you listen here, Sugar Pop,” she said. “That boy is not your beau, not your forever love. Trust me. I have a gift. I know these things.”
            She coaxed two tangerine-colored tendrils out of my updo, arranged them on either side of my face.
            “A boy who sews fashion items is not one who will adore a woman,” she said. “Well, not in the way you want. Or need.”
            I’d laid my hand over hers. “But it’s rainbow velvet, Granny. With a brush fringe. I’m pretty sure you’ll wet your britches when you see it.”
            I didn’t want her to be right about Charlie, but her certainty gave me pause. Maybe that’s why he always kissed my fingers, not my cheek. Nor my lips, full and glossy as I maintained them. Whenever we came together after a separation he’d say, “Enchante” and lift my fingertips to his mouth. He wouldn’t release them for the longest time. And sometimes his eyelashes appeared damp. That meant he cared, right?
            Charlie'd worn mittens, charcoal gray ones, the last time we’d been together. His papa had duct-taped them to his wrists.
            “Why?” I said as I fished Granny Cat’s sewing scissors out of her darning basket. “Is he concerned you would— That we might—”
            Charlie collapsed beside me on the sofa. “No,” he said as he wept against my chest. “He doesn’t want me to stitch again. Ever.”
            But that’s a recent tale. I probably should regress.

(You can read part 2 here.) 

Friday, January 20, 2012

There's No One Like Me, Right?

What you must know about me, if you must, is that there’s a book in me, a confessional really. Thing is, I don’t know when (or perish the thought, if) it will ever get from the inside of me into a bound book. The creation of it is kinda killing me. It’s just another thing I’ve started and not finished ‘cause eight hundred four things come at me a day moving at least twelve miles per hour and my little (self-diagnosed) A.D.H.D. brain says, “I can’t do everything so I’ll . . .  check Facebook. Change the laundry over. Pet a bunny. Gobble a tiny triangle of shortbread decorated with dark chocolate and peppermint dust.”
            Then this demon with a face like a burnt marshmallow perches on my knee and his talons, to tell the truth, they hurt a lot inside my skinny jeans even though I’m wearing black and white striped Betsey Johnson over-the-knee socks ‘cause a West Virginia winter in a one hundred one year old house can be pretty chillay. That’s French for chilly, you know.
            And the wee, wrinkly, skin-flaking freak lectures me. Tells me I’m a Shop-Vacking failure at life. That if I was really a good girl with some value I’d be scrubbing the hardwood floors on my hands and knees in the morning, Bible studying and chauffeuring kids all afternoon, and commuting an hour away to do a booksigning (Yeah, a real writer would have a book that people would line up to sign.) at a cute cafĂ© in a historic district ‘til midnight. And the weird thing is, I believe him. Even though I know failure is just another F word.
            But that’s just me. No one else feels this way, right?
So then I get an idea. I fetch a Band-Aid and scribble a scripture on it. Slap it (gently though, ‘cause truth be told, I’m hurting) on my forehead. Oh gosh. That feels so much better. I lean toward the mirror and translate the aqua-penned, backward writing, on the flesh-toned strip.

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
Take that, you fart face, skin-flaking, marshmallow moron.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Real Live Spaghetti and Meatballs

I coulda been a food blogger. Note I did not say shoulda. I am a talented cook for sure but I think my true calling is with words. Least I hope so. However, there was a post of mine last summer—Hospitality Lost and Found—that was positively delicious. I had a HUGE response to it and many folks requested the recipes.
            So I thought, I can do this. I can food blog, or whatever the politically correct phrase is. I said that about this time last week but now I sit at my computer before you, head hung in shame. Heart full of humility. Yellow streaks on my chin.
            Food blogging is hard, people. Especially the taking pictures part. I pretty much inhale oxygen at that. In fact, I’m still in the process of trying to figure out whether or not to use the blurry pictures. I’m probably going to have to post some of them, like the one below, since I only have one shot of the cute little herb bouquet perched in a shot glass.

(See. I told you I was a lame photographer.)

            Due to the stress I encountered during this process (But really, nothing a wee crystal glass of Limoncello can't fix.), I don’t plan to food blog often. Since I like to finish what I start (No, I don’t. That’s a lie. Ask my family.) I will share a couple of blogposts with the recipes for the foods mentioned in Hospitality.
Today I am proud to present REAL LIVE SPAGHETTI AND MEATBALLS. This recipe is from my one hundred percent I-talian ma-in-law. I can pretty much guarantee you will totally wow your family and friends if you take the time to make this meal. The cool thing is, if you don’t have a ton of people over, you will have lots of sauce and meatballs to spare and both items freeze just fine.  Or, you can invite loads of folks over for supper and have no leftovers but several very happy, super impressed, full-as-a-tick-on-a-bear's-back diners.

Extra virgin olive oil
2 lbs. chuck roast, cut in 1 ½ ” chunks
1 (12 oz.) can tomato paste
1 (6 oz.) can tomato paste
1 (15 oz.) can tomato sauce
1 (8 oz.) can tomato sauce
1 small onion, peeled with ends removed
LOTS of garlic cloves, 6 maybe, crushed
Herb bouquet tied with kitchen twine to include:
1-2 sprigs each of parsley, basil, thyme, oregano, rosemary
1 bay leaf
Salt (I typically use 1 tablespoon added 1 teaspoon at a time, stir and taste, etc.)
Fresh ground pepper, 30-50 grindings
1 jalapeno or banana pepper (Don’t be afraid. It doesn’t add much heat.)
Meatballs (recipe down below)
(I make homemade pasta but you don’t have to. I would recommend purchasing FRESH pasta though. It really is a lot yummierJ)
Parmesan or Romano cheese, freshly grated

-In a large, heavy pot over medium high heat, warm 1 tablespoon of olive oil until it shimmers (Oooh, shiny!). Add meat hunks (18-ish at a time). Do not crowd meat or it will steam, not brown. Turn after a few minutes. Remove to plate. Continue with rest of meat cubes then return all cooked meat to pot along with accumulated juices.

-Add remaining ingredients EXCEPT for water, jalapeno, and meatballs.

 (Everything but the water, pepper and meatballs.)

-Now for a fancy schmancy cooking technique. Fill each empty tomato product can once with water. Pour the water into the pot. Stir well.

(After I added the water.)

-Bring sauce to a boil. Reduce heat and partially cover. Simmer 1 ½ hours.
-Add the whole jalapeno to sauce. Do not cut it or slit it in any way or you WILL add heat to your sauce.
-Now add the meatballs. Stir gently. Partially cover again. Simmer 1 ½ hours longer. Stir every 30 minutes if you think about it.
-When your sauce has finished cooking, remove and discard the whole onion, the whole jalapeno, the bayleaf, and the herb bouquet.

To serve (and this is kind of a duh thing), cook the pasta to your liking. Drain. Scoop a pile of pasta onto each plate. Top with a ladleful of sauce, one or two meatballs, and a couple of meat chunks. Grate fresh Romano or Parmesan (or Asiago, or Fontina, whatever you love) over the sauce. Place in front of a drooling diner along with a fork. Otherwise it gets really messy really fast.

Note: The first time I ate this sauce at my in-law’s house I thought, “My! It’s quite runny.” Now I love it. But if you prefer a thicker, more viscous sauce (I love the word viscous, don’t you?), let the sauce simmer for that second hour and a half without the lid. Lots of water will evaporate and this will thicken the sauce.
Note: I had a boss who told me a chef friend of his swore by adding one pork chop to the sauce. If you try this, let me know how it turns out please.

¾ c. breadcrumbs
2 T. water
1 t. salt
¼ t. pepper
¼ t. fennel seed (optional)
Parsley, snipped, maybe 2 T. (optional)
1 small onion, minced
1 clove garlic, pressed
1 egg
1 lb. ground beef

-In a large bowl (I like to use my Kitchenaid mixer, aka “Big Mama Mixer."), combine all ingredients EXCEPT the ground beef.

(Everything but the meat)

-Add the ground beef. Stir (or run mixer on low) until everything is mixed well.
-Shape into 1 ½” balls (For uniformity purposes, I use a measuring tablespoon to scoop the meat mixture.)
-Place the meatballs on a plate until all of the meat mixture is used.

(This is how my meatballs look.)

-Drop meatballs into simmering sauce at the 1 ½ hour point. Yes, they will be food safe (if your sauce has a true simmer going on). This will give them a soft,  delicate texture plus, you'll have fewer dishes to wash afterward. However, feel free to bake the meatballs on a sheet at 350 degrees for 10 minutes before adding to the sauce if that makes you feel better or, if you like a little bit of a crust on your little roly-poly guys.

(Meatballs added to sauce and stirred gently.)

-Note: This recipe yields about 28 meatballs. Consider doubling your meatball recipe because everyone ADORES meatballs!
-Another note: If you have a mortar and pestle, grind the fennel seed before you add it to the meatball mixture. It really ups the flavor!

Still to come:  Real Live Focaccia and other pre-spaghetti treats, easy make ahead side dishes served at the Italian Feast, and the "Sunday items" mentioned in Hospitality Lost and Found.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Maria and Me

If I could show anyone my list of 2012 possibilities, I'd choose Julie Andrews. In her Sound of Music costume.
     Surely Maria, a flibbertijibbet, a will-o'-the wisp, a clown like myself would comprehend why I abhor resolutions. How they remind me of jail, all striped vestments and fetters.
    I bet she'd bring her guitar and when she opened the case it would be empty but the aqua satin lining would dazzle me. I'd gawk at the luxe beauty of it. She'd stoop and stroke the fabric's gleam.  
    “Here, love. Place all your 2012 possibilities in here and nary a word shall I say if any are not achieved.”
    I'd approach her, kind of pulled into myself. She's so famous! And she'd smile and tilt her head to the side. Like maybe she was thinking, "Don't be shy, dear. I use potty paper just like you."
     Then I'd kneel and carefully arrange all my 2012 I-think-I-wanna's (penned in green 'cause that makes them seem alive) in a single layer. And if you read them one by one, this is what they'd say.

Open, offer myself to others more.
Be nicer to my mommy.
Fritter (my moments) less.
Prance, skip, or frolic. At least once a month.
Learn scads of stuff.
Eat fewer things with a face.
Be sincerely (and frequently) thankful.
Wear ponytails at least once this year.
(To remember.)
Exist here. In the moment. More.
Sing out loud. A lot.
(Never mind. I already do that.)
Attempt performance poetry. Once. Maybe.
Bring fewer inanimate objects into our home.
Write love letters to my children.
Take five GIANT steps toward my destiny. 
Create beauty. Often.
Compliment folks frequently and sincerely.
Cultivate strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries.
Do that random act of kindess thing. A lot.
Consider coloring a random hank of hair purple.
Make it a point to pronounce the ‘p’ in raspberries.
Date my husband.
Appreciate beauty. Often.
Snort less when I laugh. Maybe.
Fear (your judgement, my failure) less.
Attach a colorful fabric ♥ to a bright sweater.
Selah. Definitely daily. Hopefully more. 
   Your turn. What possibilites will you consider for 2012?


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